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Good News from the PMI Pulse of the Profession 2017 Report

PMI Pulse of the Profession 2017 Report

The PMI Pulse of the Profession 2017 annual review is called ‘Success Rates Rise’. From the title, we already know it contains good news.

This year, the focus of the PMI’s analysis is on strategic initiatives. But project managers at all levels need to be aware of the major trends and the conclusions the PMI draws. So, in this article, we extract the meat. And we add our own OnlinePMCourses comment to some of the PMI’s own conclusions.

Methodology of the PMI Pulse of the Profession 2017 Annual Review

PMI Pulse of the Profession 2017 Report

PMI Pulse of the Profession 2017 Report

Before we look at the headline conclusions from the PMI Pulse of the Profession 2017 annual review, we should say something about its methods. They surveyed 3,234 project management professionals, of whom:

  • half were from North America (50%),
  • just under a quarter were from EMEA (23%),
  • a fifth from Asia Pacigic (20%),
  • and the rest from Latin America
  • None were from Africa

One of the biggest strengths of the PMI’s Pulse of the Profession surveys is continuity. We are now in Year 9. That means there is a continuous stream of data that we can use to compare year-on-year. Inevitably, a lot of the detailed results show little change from last year. It would take a skilled statistician to extract which shifts are significant, and which represent random variation.

We have not independently analysed the PMI’s raw data. As we did with last year’s Pulse of the Profession report, we have selected from the PMI’s analysis. And then we added our own comments on what we find most noteworthy.

PMI Pulse of the Profession 2017, Conclusion No 1

Project success rate is UP. Last year, PMI reported 62% of projects successfully met their original goals and business intent. This year, that figure is 69%. This does represent a statistically significant improvement. This is the first increase in five years.

The @PMInstitute finds #project success rates are up in 2017 Pulse of the Profession. Click To Tweet

More than this, PMI also reports a significant drop in wasted budget. Last year, wastage was at $122 per $1,000 invested. This year, it is down by 20% to $97/$1,000.

Finding the causes for this is harder, and I suspect PMI is not wholly successful in extracting causation from correlation. A good example is this…

PMI Pulse of the Profession 2017, Conclusion No 2

PMI attributes a lot of this success to Project Sponsorship. It says:

Actively engaged sponsors continue to be the top driver of whether projects meet their original goals and business intent

There is certainly a strong correlation here. Respondents report a similar increase in active sponsorship: up from 59% to 62%. But PMI provides only one line of evidence that this is the cause. When they compare their best performing organizations with their worst, PMI finds 77% of the top performers have actively engaged project sponsors. This compares to only 44% among the under-performers.

What interests me most in this section is a conclusion that reinforces my own personal experience. I have found that organizations which train their sponsors see big returns in terms of project performance to budget, schedule, and delivery. PMI states that ‘champion organizations continually create opportunities for executive sponsor training’. 56% of champion organizations do so, compared to just 8% of under-performers!

PMI Pulse of the Profession 2017, Conclusion No 3

Another beguiling correlation is between the presence of Project Management Offices (PMOs) and Enterprise PMOs (EPMOs), and project success. However, this statistic is far starker, and therefore more suggestive of causation.

71% of organizations report having a PMO (up from 68% last year and 61% in 2007). Of these, 50% have an enterprise-wide PMO (up from 49%, so not a statistically significant change, I suspect). Now, respondents rated around 38% of PMOs as having a high level of alignment to the organization’s strategy. And 12% had a low alignment.

The interesting statement is this…

Organizations which align their EPMO to their strategy had 38% more projects meeting their original goals and business intent, and 33% fewer projects were deemed failures.

By the way, PMI illustrates this conclusion with one of the worst charts I have ever seen. It is more than confusing; it mismatches scales and PMI should be ashamed of it!

For more on PMOs, see our article ‘Introduction to the PMO

PMI Pulse of the Profession 2017, Conclusion No 4

For me the most interesting finding is about Benefits Management. 31% of respondents rated their organization’s maturity level in benefits realization as high (23%) or very high (8%). Unfortunately, last year, that data was gathered in only three bins of high, medium and low. They use five bins this year. So I don’t believe last year’s figure of 17% rated as high is directly comparable. We can draw no firm trend conclusion here. PMI does, however, suggest a ‘growing attention to benefits realization’ and this is plausible.

I think this will be one of the main thrusts of development in Project Management methodology and PMO competency over the coming years. Interestingly, the most recent, fifth, edition of PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge ( US , UK ) does not have a section on Benefits Management. This is a gap I hope they will fill soon, although it is not slated for the 6th edition.

PMI Pulse of the Profession 2017, Conclusion No 5

I’m going to diverge from the PMI’s conclusions on the subject of talent. In their summary, PMI states:

Developing Technical, leadership, and business management skills of project professionals continues to receive significant attention. 32% of survey respondents consider both technical and leadership skills a high priority – a 3% increase over last year.

Let’s set aside the fact that 3% is barely of statistical significance with the PMI’s sample size. Instead, we’ll look at the data in the report’s appendix 1. It does not allow us to find the 32%, so we must trust that. But it does break down the level of priority for the PMI’s three skill areas of technical, leadership, and business, into five bins of very high, high, medium, low, and, very low.

Let’s take technical skills, which receive (marginally) the highest level of priority, and with a marginal increase over last year. 41% of respondents state that development of talent with the necessary technical skills is either a high (29%) or very high (14%) priority in their organization.

Yes, that sounds good… Until you realize that over half of organizations feel that developing skills is not a high priority. Ouch!

This is reflected in 60% of organizations providing ongoing Project Management training; and therefore 40% not doing so. Almost half.

PMI Pulse of the Profession 2017, Conclusion No 6

Part 1: Agile

The rise and rise of Agile continues. And so, we’ll have an announcement for you soon.

Only 12% of organizations had never used Agile. But then, 10% claimed not to have used waterfall practices. This is hard to understand, because  all but 3% had used some form of project performance measures. So we must wonder, ‘under what framework?’

Wisely, I think, PMI headlines the statistic that 71% of organizations report using Agile approaches:

  • sometimes (31%),
  • often (29%), or
  • always (11%).

That’s a big take-up. And if we look at the most popular of the Agile methodologies, Scrum, the comparative figures are:

  • sometimes (28%),
  • often (20%), or
  • always (7%)
  • totalling 55%.
#Agile used by 71% of orgs in @PMInstitute Pulse of #ProjectManagement Profession 2017 report Click To Tweet

Part 2: PRINCE2

Of most surprise to me (based in the UK) is the uptake of PRINCE2. This is a methodology most widely used here and in Commonwealth countries. Usages reported were low:

  • sometimes (14%),
  • often (6%), or
  • always (2%)
  • totalling 22%.

But this is from a demograph of which only a small part are the primary PRINCE2 users, the UK public sector. Also, another 20% do use PRINCE2 rarely. It is a more international methodology than I had thought.

For more on recent changes to PRINCE2, see our article, ‘What’s up with PRNCE2 2017?

PMI Pulse of the Profession 2017, Conclusion No 7

In a discussion about strategic projects, one quote really stood out for me. It’s unreasonable to label one executive’s perception as a ‘conclusion’, but her point supports a simple conclusion. Bronwyn Clere of Telstra Corporation says:

No longer can we afford these large monolithic programs that go on for years…
We are focusing on very rapid delivery cycles…
How do we get product into market or to customers or into the business, and implement that, rather than doing some big-bang transformation?’

Fast, responsive project management techniques are becoming more important. This reinforces Conclusion No 6, about the rise of Agile. But we must not lose sight of Conclusion No 4 either. Benefits Management is on the rise, and rightly so.

Indeed in my favourite graph of the whole report, 37% of respondents cited ‘lack of clearly defined and/or achievable milestones and objectives to measure progress’ as the most important factor in project failure. This doesn’t only endorse the need to good benefits management, with its focus on benefits delivery schedules. But it also draws us towards capabilities based planning, which we saw in our previous article.

PMI Pulse of the Profession 2017, Conclusion No 8

There is a marked difference in behaviours between the best and poorest performing organizations. We cannot safely conclude that any one of these differences is causal. But it would be foolish to act as if none were. Instead, we should implement as many of these changes as we can. The principle here is of the portfolio investment.

If organizations make a wide spread of investments in initiatives that are likely to improve their project performance, the evidence suggests they will start to see rapid results.

PMI defined two classes of organization:

80% or more of their projects deliver on time and on budget, and meet their original goals and bsiness intent. They also have a high benefits realization maturity. These formed 7% of the study’s organizations.

60% or fewer of their projects deliver on time and on budget, and meet their original goals and bsiness intent. They also have a low benefits realization maturity. These formed 12% of the study’s organizations.

We cannot draw any conclusions, therefore, on the role of benefits maturity, because it is baked into the distinction. But other behahiour differences are evident. We summarize them in the chart below.

Champions and Underperformers - PMI Pulse of the Profession 2017

What are Your Thoughts about The PMI Pulse of the Profession 2017 Report?

You can download your own copy here. We’d love to hear your own thoughts about any aspect of the report, and we’ll respond to any comments. Most of all, we’d also like to know what’s happening n your organization.



About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 13 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was an successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

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